I recently received a very kind email from a Deseret News reader who wanted to know why, in the biographical blurb at the end of all my columns, I say that I am a “recovering actor.” He was confused as to what that was supposed to mean. Was I treated poorly? Abused somehow? And was it all Disney’s fault?
The answers are no, no and no, respectively.
I consider myself a “recovering actor” in the same way an AA member is a “recovering alcoholic.” There was a time in my life when the only thing that mattered to me was getting on stage or in front of a camera. It may not have done as much damage to my liver as an addiction to booze would have, but it was an addiction nonetheless. It got to the point where I measured my value as a human being based on how much applause I could get. I eventually found this to be a fairly miserable way to live my life.
Yet even with all that, my acting career, such as it was, was always somewhat tentative. I found myself struggling with the tension between my craving for an audience’s approval and my desire to have the kind of normal life that actors don’t tend to have. A tiny percentage of performers strike it rich, but the vast majority of them tend to eke out a living in a nomadic existence that makes it very difficult to put down the roots necessary to create the kind of home and family that was truly my top priority.
This dilemma came into focus for me when I was studying acting at the University of Southern California. I found myself in a class taught by Charles Macaulay, whose name you might not recognize but whose face you would probably be familiar with, as he was one of those guys who was seldom the star of anything but usually appeared as a supporting player in about every TV show in the '60s and '70s. He endeared himself to me when he revealed that he had made two appearances on the original "Star Trek" TV series, including one as the godlike character named Landru in the classic episode “The Return of the Archons.” As I geeked out over this, he just rolled his eyes.
“I’ve performed in every play in the Shakespeare canon,” he said, “but they’re going to write ‘Landru’ on my tombstone.”
At the end of the semester, he pulled me aside and told me something I’ll never forget: “You could have a career in this world, Jim, if you want it,” he told me. “But I’m not sure you do.”
He saw the tightrope that I was trying to walk between the theatrical world and domesticity, and he told me it was a lost cause. If I wanted to make it in this business, then I had to sacrifice everything to the effort. I had to forego a family and the other things I wanted and put my career first.
I spent a great deal of time and effort trying to prove Landru wrong. But, ultimately, I failed to do so. I concluded that he was right on the money, which meant that the only way to resolve the tension was to walk away. The career rewards would never have been enough to compensate for what I would have had to give up to achieve them. I’m happier in recovery than I was on the stage.
That’s not to say it can’t be done — only that I couldn’t do it. Others are welcome to try.
I'm now happily married, with five children and no star on Hollywood Boulevard. All in all, a pretty good deal. And I owe it all to the wisdom of Landru
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.